How Not to Impress a Magician

The word that makes me realize I don’t know every word is abattoir.

I’m in a single day, last minute GRE prep class that I thought I would cruise through, since as a 21 year old, I know all of the important words there are to know.

The day begins with the teacher quizzing us on difficult words, and naturally I know all of them. I notice another person who knows all of the words, but it doesn’t bother me. The day is young.

Eventually, the teacher says the word: abattoir. I’m stumped but they raise their hand.

“Slaughterhouse,” they say.

The words get harder and harder, and even though there are more and more that I don’t know, I focus on this one word, abattoir. Slaughterhouse. Blood flowing behind my eyelids. Dead animals, the chosen parts, and the remains.

*  *  *

The word that makes me think I can know every word is mellifluous.

I’ve been staying up all night reading the dictionary, flipping around and testing myself, anything to stay up late and use the night before a wasted High School Day tomorrow. In my mind I’m standing at the bottom of a huge hill looking up toward an infinite horizon, not an abstract landscape of shapes but an impossible looking terrain paved with physical representations of everything I don’t know.

I find a pleasant sounding word that means pleasant sounding, literally flowing like honey, and it sticks in my mind. I picture a small bee on a flower, and then thousands of bees in a field, a world dripping in honey, everything pouring through a planet-sized sieve, golden liquor pouring out in ribbons, the sweet remains of an impossible, universal choreography. I know this language can one day be mine.

*  *  *

My Freshman college roommate is a Sophomore named Rory who has been living in our room since the summer because he got kicked off the College’s basketball team. He doesn’t like music and his hobby is being a magician, in peak late 90s fashion, styling himself after David Blaine. A hyperactive, impish, ginger David Blaine. Complete with a blazer and a t-shirt underneath. His face is impossibly small. He claims he can hypnotize people. He has a “Baby Dream Team” poster on the wall, depicting the members of the 1992 US Men’s Olympic Basketball team crudely drawn as infants. 

He asks me if he can check out my music and I regret it almost immediately, because he likes music now. More specifically, he likes one song and it’s “Used To Love Her” by Guns N’ Roses, which he plays on repeat.

“I used to love her / But I had to kill her / I had to put her / six feet under.” he wails along.

“Isn’t that fucking sick?” he asks me.

“Can we play the whole album at least?” I ask.

“This is the only good song, dude.”

I start locking up my CDs in the extra room I took over as my “office,” a disused small galley-style kitchen that I set up my computer in since Rory doesn’t have one and claims not to be interested in computers at all. I delight in this small space and fashion it my writerly headquarters. I print out great sentences in different fonts and tape them to the wall. I stare at them, memorize them, fuse with them. They flow through my veins like honey.

Pieces of poems, parts of sentences. I read irresponsibly, obsessively. I tell a friend I’ll meet him downstairs, start a book, and show up the next day, much to his confusion. I get more and more infatuated with staring at words and start to crack up a bit while doing it. After not talking to Rory for weeks, I practically pounce on him when I discover that with a simple change, manslaughter becomes man’s laughter. He is not impressed.

*  *  *

I’ve come to enjoy reading a certain Doltish Rich Man’s tweets because of a habit he has of taunting people who question him by telling them that he’s forgotten more about a thing in some very recent and brief time period than they’ve ever known about that thing in their entire lives.

It goes like this: The Doltish Rich Man is at the gym, on Twitter, and a Decent Human insinuates that he’s not the world’s leading expert on the San Francisco real estate market.

“@doltishrichman Is it possible that you’re not the world’s leading expert on the San Francisco real estate market?” - @decenthuman

“@decenthuman I have forgotten more about the San Francisco real estate market during my last two breaths than you have ever known about it in your entire life.”  - @doltishrichman

This is ostensibly meant to point out the absurdly large amount of information that the Doltish Rich Man knows, the logic being that even taking into account forgetting more than his interlocutor has ever known, he still knows more.

The comedy arises from the fact the Doltish Rich Man uses this argument so much that it has led many to wonder, is there something physically wrong with this man’s brain? Should we be helping him to remember? What else is he forgetting? What remains?

*  *  *

At our second child’s third birthday party, my wife turns to me and says, “having a kid is a lot like having a dog, but kids eventually learn how to speak.” I laugh and think she’s making a joke. Then I realize she summed it up very well. The idea sticks with me.

Take away our language, and what remains?

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